Rockford, Ill. - The Rockford IceHogs (19-8-2-3) finished off the 2015 calendar year in fine fashion, dispatching their intrastate rival Chicago Wolves (14-3-1-2) by a 5-2 score in front of a sellout crowd of 6,053 at the BMO Harris Bank Center on Wednesday night.
Ryan Haggerty earned first star honors with two goals and an assist. Jeremy Morin picked up his 200th career professional point and 100th career professional assist, while Jake Dowell completed a Gordie Howe hat trick (1g-2a-7PIM).
The Wolves earned the majority of the chances early, but the IceHogs tallied first courtesy of Garret Ross’s fifth goal of the season at 9:29 of the first period to spark the office. Ross tipped a loose puck past a Chicago defender in the neutral zone before tucking a backhand try on Pheonix Copley. Copley initially kept the puck out, but Ross persisted and poked it home to give Rockford the 1-0 lead.
The home team doubled the advantage at 12:01 in the first. While the two squads skated four-a-side, Morin found Vince Hinostroza alone in front with a feed right to his tape. Hinostroza backhanded the puck by Copley to earn his third goal of the year and give Morin his second assist of the evening.
Mark Visentin preserved the lead just seconds following the marker, robbing Zack Torquato on a prime scoring opportunity and follow-up try.
Marko Dano nearly added to the advantage on the power play with less than five minutes to play in the opening period, but Copley stretched out his left pad to deny a rebound opportunity along the ice.
Visentin picked up where he left off to start the middle frame, denying Danny Kristo and Riley Brace off a turnover in the opening minute.
Haggerty continued the offensive onslaught with a snipe over the blocker of Copley off a backhand feed from Dowell to make the score 3-0. The goal chased Copley 2:16 into the period, who was replaced by Jordan Binnington.
Tanner Kero and Mark McNeill each nearly added to the scoresheet 16 and 17 minutes into the second, respectively. Kero was stopped on the backhand down low, and McNeill whipped a wrist shot off the post. Chicago converted on the other end, as Kristo lifted a puck over the shoulder of Visentin to spoil the shutout bid at 17:19 and make the score 3-1.
Visentin’s biggest save of the night came just over three minutes into the final frame. Spencer Asuchak found a wide-open Kristo on the backdoor, but the IceHogs goaltender dove across the open cage to maintain the two-goal lead.
Haggerty picked up his second tally of the night at 5:06 of the third, swatting a bouncing puck short side on Binnington to make the score 4-1.
Kristo managed to break through again with 7:22 to play, putting his second of the game past Visentin to draw within two goals.
Haggerty combined with Dowell to restore the three-goal lead and put the game away just 1:23 later, firing a shot from the left wing towards the newly-appointed captain, who tipped home his seventh of the season to complete the Gordie Howe hat trick.
Visentin turned away 28 shots in the victory while Copley and Binnington combined to stop 29.
Next Home Game: Jan. 3 vs. Milwaukee Admirals at 4 pm. The first 2,500 in the gates will receive a pack of Rockford IceHogs trading cards compliments of the Rockford Register Star. After the game, the team will host a postgame skate where fans can skate with their favorite IceHogs on the BMO Harris Bank Center ice. Skates will not be provided.